On February 15, 2022, authorities arrested some 30 people in Brazil and Spain during an international police operation that dismantled a narcotrafficking and money laundering ring. The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) coordinated the investigation with support from the Brazilian Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese), the Spanish Civil Guard, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish).
According to Europol, the group was able to ship “several tons of cocaine to Europe” in maritime containers, every few months, thanks to a distribution network based in Spain. Brazilian and European security forces intercepted many of these shipments.
“Since September 2020, authorities in Belgium, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain have seized about 10 tons of cocaine and more than $2 million,” Europol said. “Most of the arrests took place in Brazil, in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Santos, and Volta Redonda. Seven people were also detained in Barcelona,” AFP reported.
The investigation indicated that the organization’s command and control centers were in Dubai. Authorities also discovered production infrastructure in Bolivia, with logistics and supply chains in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, Europol said.
“The Brazilian and foreign authorities operated in full cooperation internationally, with the participation of the DEA and Europol, optimizing results achieved against the criminal group,” the PF said in a statement. According to the PF, the operation was dubbed Turf in reference to one of the criminal organization’s forms of money laundering: the acquisition and trading of racehorses.
Criminals communicated via encrypted messages, Europol said, allowing them to coordinate the network of companies that imported drugs from South America and carried out money laundering activities.
“The operation uncovered a distribution network in the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Valencia, in charge of receiving cocaine shipments and circulating them on the European market,” AFP reported.
Europol said agents searched some 40 establishments in Brazil, Paraguay, and Spain. In addition to the 30 people arrested, authorities seized vehicles, drugs, firearms, and cash. Police also froze bank accounts in these three countries.
Production in Bolivia
According to Paraguayan authorities, the cocaine that the organization transported was produced in Bolivia. “The main production area of the shipments would be in central Bolivia,” said Francisco Ayala, SENAD’s Communications director, in an interview with La Mañana en Directo on Bolivia’s radio station Erbol.
According to Ayala, the investigation indicated that the organization was taking cocaine from Bolivia by air to Paraguay. “Paraguay served as a bridge and storage center for shipments from Bolivia,” he said. The Bolivian government requested information from Europol and announced the opening of “an internal investigation” as part of the international operation, Bolivian newspaper El Deber reported on February 22.